SEOUL — South Korean reporters say they are poised to collectively end next week a nine-month government-requested media blackout over the plight of four sailors who have been held hostage by Somali pirates.
Domestic journalists have followed the direction of South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade not to report about the matter following a failed November 30, 2011 attempt to free the entire crew of the MT Gemini
Monday will mark 500 days of captivity for the four South Koreans who were not released with their fellow hostages last year.
The four South Koreans, while enroute from Kenya to Malaysia on April 30, 2011, were kidnapped by Somali pirates.
A prominent South Korean weekly television news program postponed a report it planned to air Wednesday evening about the sensitive incident.
The Chase 60 Minutes
program's Twitter account said the segment was yanked one day prior to its airing because of concerns expressed by the broadcaster's board of directors.
The segment was replaced by a documentary about deserts.
Details about the latest internal strife involving the state-funded KBS were also reported Thursday by the independent Media Today
magazine.The report implied there was pressure on KBS upper management and its board from the government to cancel the sensitive segment.
However both the foreign ministry and a spokesman for KBS denied the government pressured the station. Instead, the KBS spokesman, who spoke on condition he not be named, said the station received a letter from family members worried that the broadcast would put the hostages in further peril.
But the network spokesman says the segment is now scheduled to air next week after the domestic media collectively lifts the blackout.
Most of the crew on the hijacked tanker were released after the Singaporean owners paid pirates a ransom reportedly totaling $6 million. The kidnappers freed 13 Indonesians, five Chinese and three Burmese, as well as the vessel, but the South Koreans were not let go as had been promised.
Maritime security industry analysts say the pirates held the South Koreans to express their anger with the South Korean navy’s January 2011 assault on the hijacked MV Samho Jewelry in the Arabian Sea. All of the abducted crew were rescued and eight suspected pirates were captured or killed.
VOA News broadcast
a story about the plight of the languishing MT Gemini
crew on April 1.
The KBS television program, on August 30, recorded an interview with VOA's Seoul bureau chief, Steve Herman, about the decision to air the report.
South Korea's foreign ministry asked VOA to adhere to the news blackout, arguing VOA's report would “not be helpful for the ongoing negotiating process” with the pirates.
The VOA report said Somali kidnappers were threatening to kill South Korean and Indian sailors if those nations did not free pirates they have captured and intend to try in court
In March, the independent Somali Channel broadcast footage showing the MT Gemini's
master, chief engineer, chief mate and second mate being held at gunpoint on land and pleading for help. They explained that their captors were demanding millions of dollars in compensation for the families of pirates who were killed by the South Korean commandos.
A YouTube link to the Somali Channel report, which had been publicized in South Korea, subsequently was blocked by the Korea Communications Standards Commission with a warning asserting the content displayed is "illegal or harmful." (But it can still be viewed in South Korea using a lesser know unlisted link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03El-7zyBz0
Such censorship is usually imposed by South Korean authorities to block North Korean propaganda or pornography.
The media blackout also recalls the tactics used during decades of authoritarian rule in South Korea, when the government would interfere in reporting it deemed sensitive.
KBS was established by the Japan's colonial government in South Korea in 1927. It is a public organization with its revenue derived from a combination of funds for a mandatory television licensing fee and commercial advertising.
The network's president is recommended by its board of directors to the country's president. Since political parties have the right to name board members, the broadcaster's president, Kim In-kyu, is a de facto appointee of the country's president.
The continuing ties between government and media have led to frequent strife between unionized journalists and their media bosses.
There have been extended labor strikes at KBS and four other major media outlets this year. Unionized staff walked off their jobs contending, among other grievances, government interference in reporting and to express opposition to top executives being appointed by or having a close association with President Lee.